Tag Archives: Anglia

That halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the trades unions ran the UK

PravdaLogoIn 1984, I went to the USSR. When I came back to my work at Granada TV in Manchester, I happened to mention that, in Moscow, I had taken a metro train out to the end of the line, had taken a walk round the bleak suburban area, gone into a few shops and found virtually nothing on the shelves. In particular, the food shops had a lot of empty shelves and very few items of food.

When I mentioned this to one of my Granada workmates (who had never been to the USSR but who had a university degree), she told me: “Oh! You’ve been listening to too much Western propaganda. It’s not like that.”

I have always remembered this conversation.

I told her I had been to Moscow, walked into shops and seen things.

She, never having been there, told me with total confidence that I had listened to too much anti-Soviet propaganda.

Because she knew what the truth was. She had talked to people she knew who had the same outlook as she did.

This was a university-educated person in her early thirties.

Beware of that most dangerous of all things: an airhead with a degree.

And beware of people who have inflexible opinions on events and eras which they never experienced.

I am buying a new carpet for the stairs in my house.

Yesterday, I was talking to a shop assistant who is younger than my stair carpet. My stair carpet was laid around 1986 – the height of Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister.

Also yesterday, someone not born when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister told me they found my blog of a couple of days ago very enlightening. It was about the trades unions pre-Thatcher.

Let me take you back again to that halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK and ‘took on’ the unions…

When I worked at Anglia TV in Norwich, you could get no captions or graphics artwork of any kind made for an hour – sometimes two hours – in the middle of the afternoon, because that was when the Graphics Dept men (they were all men) played cards.

It was a pattern widely repeated in many ways in many other departments across the ITV network.

I started at college when Margaret Thatcher was newly Prime Minister. I took Communication Studies – it is now called Media Studies. We had lecturers who worked at the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

At that time, for several years past, the Daily Mirror had had colour printing machines standing in their building under covers which they had bought for large amounts of money. (Newspapers, at that time, printed photographs only in black-and-white.)

The print unions told the Daily Mirror that the machines could not be used. In fact, they told the company that, if the covers were even removed from the machines, there would be a strike which could possibly close the newspaper.

The Daily Mirror did not print colour photos regularly until 2nd June 1988, after Margaret Thatcher had ‘taken on’ the unions.

Before that, I personally knew someone who was a part-time comedy performer and also a print union member. He ‘worked’ for the Sunday Telegraph in London on a freelance basis… except he lived in Norfolk and never went in to the Telegraph building in London. His friend ‘clocked’ him in and, as far as the newspaper was concerned, his name was Michael Mouse (as in Mickey Mouse – this is NOT a joke).

Getting into the ACTT union or the print unions was difficult but, once you got in, you were untouchable and the companies were terrified of even the threat of strikes. In my view at the time, the closed-shop ACTT was 10% a union protecting its members and 90% a protection racket, coercing money from its members and controlling how the TV production companies worked.

You – and the companies – did what the all-powerful union officers said or you suffered the consequences.

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The golden age of British TV shows included a woman dusting things

In the imagined golden olden days of British independent television, ITV was actually a loosely-linked collection of regional companies with some programmes transmitted locally, some fully-networked and some partly-networked.

As a result, there were some occasionally odd programmes on air.

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Yesterday, I was talking to Keith Martin who worked, it seemed, almost everywhere as a freelance announcer and presenter. He worked on pirate ship Radio Caroline, for the BBC Forces’ broadcaster and for, among many other ITV stations, ABC, Anglia, ATV, HTV, LWT and Thames.

“I remember,” I told him, “writing introductions for Houseparty in, I guess, the 1970s. That was just housewives sitting around randomly talking with no script.”

“Well,” said Keith, “that was a Southern Television production and was a forerunner and far more entertaining than the current Loose Women on ITV, which is done in a stationary way with a row of delightful ladies just gossiping.”

Houeparty - just women chatting

Houseparty from Southern TV – women chatting randomly

“I seem to remember,” I said, “in Houseparty, there would be a ding-dong on the door bell and someone would come into a living room which had been built in the studio.”

“It had this vast kitchen,” remembered Keith. “I suppose you could have called it a farmhouse kitchen. The programme wasn’t networked to all the ITV regions, but Anglia TV certainly took it – it was probably cheap.”

“How did you introduce Houseparty at Anglia?” I asked, “Because you never had any idea what they were going to be chatting about.”

“Most of the opening station idents in front of the programmes,” Keith reminded me, “had noises – little bits of music which someone got paid repeat fees on – but this particular programme had a silent ident, probably because Southern never thought it was worthy of even a harp being plucked. The ident used to come in silently, just like the Granada symbol.” (Granada allegedly had a silent logo to avoid paying for music.)

“When I was at Anglia,” said Keith, “I always made a point of talking over the opening logo because the programme always opened up with these women gossiping about something or other. So I would just say something like Oh, that’s not true! It can’t possibly be true! and then the sound would mix into their gossip and, a lot of the time, it made sense and it was hysterical. The engineers out the back would yell: Perfect! Perfect!”

In the 1960s, this was a TV star

A UK star with its own TV show in the 1960s…

“Who broadcast the feather duster?” I asked him.

“Oh, that was an ABC Television series,” he told me. “I don’t think it lasted very long because I suspect (the ITV regulatory body) the ITA didn’t think it was meaningful enough.

“It was just popular records playing with this woman talking occasionally to camera and she would do the housework while the record was playing. She was doing feather dustering around the house. And this was on television! I’m surprised it’s not been brought back.”

“This programme lasted half an hour?” I asked.

“Oh, at least half an hour,” said Keith. “And it was live.”

“What sort of year was this?” I asked.

“Some time in the 1960s,” said Keith. “The thing was you could tune into these programmes, switch them on and you could hear ‘popular records’ being played on television. Associated-Rediffusion did something very similar with Kent Walton (who went on to be a wrestling commentator). That was dancing and prancing. It was an excuse to play ‘gramophone records’ and the visuals were young people dancing and prancing around in the studio. Cool For Cats, it was called.

“It was all carefully rehearsed as, I’m sure, the dusting programme itself was so that, by the time the music finished, you would only have got to a particular point in the dusting, otherwise you would be dusting the same doorknob again.”

“What did the woman with the duster say?” I asked.

“Please!” replied Keith. “I’m old, but I’m not that old. I saw it as a child. How I saw it I don’t know. It would have been networked to the Midlands and the whole of the North of England.”

Ah! The golden days of television, before everything was dumbed down.

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Old-fashioned British TV, with in-vision announcers & the un-named Mike Hunt

Reginald Bosanquet, alleged drinker and serial libel accuser

I’ve been to a couple of TV events at the National Film Theatre in London over the last couple of days.

At the first one, Spitting Image/Not The Nine O’Clock News and QI producer John Lloyd opined that he had been quite lucky in that he had never been sued – except by legendary newsreader Reginald Bosanquet who, it turned out, made quite a good living from suing people for not-too-high sums if they said he drank too much.

Like John Lloyd, people tended to settle out of court rather than risk the vast costs of any court case (even if Reginald Bosanquet was an epic drinker) so Reggie made a lot of money out of a large number of small settlements.

Yesterday, the NFT event was about TV promotions and presentation (the trailers, the announcers, the branding) – an area I worked in for over 20 years.

Anglia’s much-admired weatherman

I started at Anglia TV in Norwich. It appeared to be a very genteel station. Their weather man Michael Hunt, an amiable moustachioed man, was never introduced – perhaps for an obvious audio reason – as Mike Hunt. But I suspect the obvious reason was never thought-of at Anglia.

From Norwich: Nicholas Parsons with the Quiz of the Weak?

It had a reputation for pulling above its weight. Although a small regional station, Anglia produced major network shows like Tales of the Unexpected (a drama series with big-name stars), Survival (nature films shot worldwide to rival David Attenborough’s on the BBC) and quiz show Sale of the Century hosted by the eternally gentlemanly Nicholas Parsons.

The reality of Anglia was that Tales of the Unexpected was produced in London with non-Anglia crews by Anglia board member Sir John Woolf. His cinema movies included Oliver!, Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.

The award-winning Survival films were made by a unit in London separate from Anglia TV.

Sale of the Century and other game shows were, indeed, made by Anglia in Norwich with Anglia crews, but the prestige drama and natural history programmes were made well away from the Norwich studio complex where most staff seemed to live for their evening and weekend lives in comfortable rural villages while the Anglia bosses seemed to live a slightly old-fashioned life of country house shenanigans and grouse-shooting.

Anglia Television’s quickly old-fashioned knight to remember

The originally classy but quickly rather old-fashioned looking Anglia knight logo eventually had to be updated to a more modern look well after it should have been retired.

I remember the presentation to staff by image/style consultant company Lambie-Nairn in which a believable young man explained how they had come up with a new brand image for the company.

The altered logo – a complex heraldic tradition or a triangle?

They had replaced the old-fashioned knight figure with what was, in effect, a crisp, brightly-coloured triangle like the letter A in Anglia. This had cost (I think) millions and was a good-enough logo but – Ye Gods! – the pseudo-intellectualising spiel that went into explaining how they had come up with this simple triangular design was a master of the marketeers’ art. A heraldic continuation of the Anglia knight’s up-market image seemed to play a large part.

Jesus! I thought. It’s a triangle like the A in Anglia with some other triangles in it – the first thing anyone would come up with!

The highly talented and highly amiable Martin Lambie-Nairn himself – a man I much admire – was on stage at the NFT last night and gave some other background to that re-branding:

“Anglia Television,” he said, “was a very interesting company, a very nice company and we were there getting rid of the knight. We spent a lot of time presenting ideas to the board and there was a kind of detachment in the sort of people we were presenting to on the executive board and the non-executive board. We were presenting to these people and Lord Townshend was Chairman of the Board. We started our presentation and Lord Townshend said: One moment. Where’s John? Someone turned to Lord Townshend and said John Woolf was shooting at Elstree m’Lord….. Oh? Oh! said Lord Townshend. Who owns the shoot at Elstree?”

Martin Lambie-Nairn says he was partly responsible for ending what was eventually seen as the old-fashioned idea of having on-screen announcers on British television – by getting rid of them at the BBC and at ITV stations including Anglia.

When I started as a Continuity Scriptwriter at Anglia – writing scripts for the on-screen announcers – the only facilities were the announcer sitting in his/her booth with no autocue (he/she had to memorise any script you wrote), a slide machine and (if it was not being used for transmission or by a programme) a videotape and telecine machine. Edited trailers were rare. Feature film trailers tended to be single sections chosen from the film and were run unedited off a telecine machine.

Because ITV was a network of independent companies transmitting local programmes, networked programmes, part-networked programmes and local ads (which were sold and might be cancelled up to around 5.00pm every day) the presentation and promotion ‘bits between’ had to fit to the half-second. If you over-ran by one second, you would be cut off; if you under-ran by two seconds, there would be an unsettling gap. Equally, if a live programme over-ran or under-ran there were ‘gap’ problems.

Famous announcer/host David Hamilton: Diddy? Yes he did

Iconic announcer/presenter ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton was at the NFT last night. He was the continuity announcer one evening when, on the live Sunday Night at the London Palladium show, Shirley Bassey decided not to sing a song and the programme under-ran by five minutes, leaving a sudden gap which he had to fill with no warning, no autocue on a locked-off camera with no tape, slide or film back-up and only a copy of the TV Times listings magazine to ad-lib round. Presumably every announcer at every ITV station around the country had the same problem.

David was a promotion scriptwriter at ATV in 1960. He remembered:

“We had a boss who said to me one day: Think about how much people pay for a 30 second ad. You have got 30 seconds to sell our programmes. This is very very important and very valuable time and you must make those scripts pay.

Later in his career, he said, he remembered “one night introducing Crossroads, the long-running soap in which the sets moved more than the actors…”

Crossroads, like all good soap operas, had a central location which allowed new characters and storylines to naturally appear and disappear. In Coronation Street and EastEnders, the pub is central. Crossroads was set in a motel, which allowed new characters to appear and leave naturally.

“That evening,” said David Hamilton, “I read what the continuity writer had scripted for me: Tonight an actor arrives at the Crossroads Motel and I saw I had a second or so left on the clock and I added: Not before time.

“Two minutes later, the phone rang and it was Noele Gordon (star of Crossroads) who said: David, I didn’t like what you said about my programme. I was working for Thames and Crossroads was an ATV programme so I didn’t get too much of a bollocking.

“We weren’t really announcers,” he remembered. “More of an evening host. You became a friend in the home.”

He once got a letter from a woman living alone who explained he was the only person who talked to her during the day.

“People felt there was someone there watching the programmes with them,” he explained. And, because they were in people’s living rooms, they were famous faces.

McDonald Hobley was happier than Larry

McDonald Hobley was one of the early BBC TV announcers and had a very small part in the movie version of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, which was being filmed on the seafront at Blackpool with Laurence Olivier.

“During a break in filming,” David Hamilton remembered, “the two of them were walking along the Golden Mile and a couple of ladies came walking towards them. One of them said: Ey up! Are you McDonald Hobley? He straightened his tie and said I am, indeed. And she looked at Laurence Olivier and asked MacDonald Hobley: Who’s yer friend? Is he anybody?”

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Putting the F in art films + a surrealist comedian mistakes himself for a chair

Martin Soan as Miss Haversham at comedy club Pull The Other One last night

I mentioned cult movie The Room in yesterday’s blog – a film which it might seem difficult to out-surreal.

But reality, as always, tends to be more unbelievable than fiction.

In the last of a trilogy of odd memories, mad inventor John Ward told me another tale yesterday about working as the projectionist for an independent cinema in the 1960s.

“Our boss used to screen a right load of old rubbish,” John says. “As in cheap but perhaps not cheerful.

“We had more than our fair share of ‘Continental’ offerings – as in stuff you had never, ever heard-of plus the added fun of subtitles.

“Our matinees used to attract a small, demented audience filled with the sort of characters who could have been in David Croft sitcoms.

“One afternoon, we were showing some French film that the poster, as always, claimed had great delights but in reality included no known form of coherent entertainment. There were nine living breathing mortals in the audience, including someone the box office staff had christened ‘Mad Martha’.

“It was a 5-reel film and we inadvertently screened Reel 5 in place of Reel 3 and nobody noticed.

“On her way out through the foyer, Mad Martha commented in all seriousness to the box office staff that Her in the nice cream blouse were a brilliant actressThat film were a masterpiece.

I would be dubious about the truth of this story except that, eerily, exactly the same thing happened when I worked for Anglia Television, minus Martha.

In those days, feature films were screened from film reels on telecine machines, not off tape. During the screening of one late-night adventure movie with a complicated plot, the reels got scrambled and were shown in the order 1-2-5-3-4.

No-one complained.

The assumption by the Presentation Department was that people watching thought either that they had missed something in the complicated plot or that it was Art.

I did wonder when I later saw Quentin Tarentino’s excellent movie Pulp Fiction – where one central character is killed then comes back to life because the plot does a back-flip in time – if he had written the film in chronological order, realised it lacked tension, then simply swapped some of the pages round to make it more interesting.

All this would seem surreal except, last night, I went to the Pull The Other One comedy club and saw the former Frank Sanazi (sings like Sinatra; looks like Hitler) appear as orange-faced Tom Jones soundalike Tom Mones and Martin Soan appeared briefly as Miss Haversham from Great Expectations sitting in a chair. His costume included the chair. You had to be there. Allegedly the costume took a year to make. He was on stage for perhaps two minutes.

The critic Clive James once wrote of Martin Soan: “A total lack of any sense, rhyme or reason to the extent that the insignificance of this show completely escaped me… The funniest thing I have ever seen.”

I think I may have to go and have a lie down.

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Two more tales of racism and xenophobia at ITV – both of them perfectly understandable in the circumstances

Following on from my recent blog about sex and Jewish stereotypes at Granada Television in Manchester during the 1980s, are two stories about executive perks and free cars.

I worked at ITV when money was swilling about.

After recordings of entertainment shows Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! at London Weekend Television, Mercedes-Benz cars would queue up late night, waiting to take participants off home or to their hotels – the mini-cab company used by LWT drove only Merecedes-Benz.

That was fair enough.

Always treat your programme participants well – especially on ‘real people’ shows.

But I heard interesting stories at two of the other ITV companies I worked for – about the cars which top executives were given as part of their pay packages.

At Anglia TV, two of the top men at the company had been imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II. So top executives were allowed to choose any car they liked within a certain price range provided it was not a Japanese car. For understandable reasons.

Granada TV was founded and run by the Jewish entrepreneur Sidney Bernstein. I was told that, in the early days of the company, top executives – as at Anglia – were given cars as part of their salary package, but they could only have non-German cars. Granada would not buy, rent or lease any German car. Again for obvious reasons. Though, by the time I worked there, this rule had been changed and executives could have German cars because, it was said, Sidney had been shown that using German cars made economic sense.

Perhaps that was an urban myth, though I suspect it was true.

Granada nourished myths.

But it is ironic that it was BBC TV not ITV which popularised the saying: “Don’t mention the War!”

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